Pertussis, also known as whooping cough, is a highly contagious respiratory disease caused by the bacterium Bordetella pertussis. It is primarily a disease of young children and can be severe or even life-threatening in infants. Pertussis is characterized by a prolonged cough that can last for several weeks or even months. It is most commonly spread through respiratory droplets when an infected person talks, coughs, or sneezes.
The symptoms of pertussis typically develop within 5 to 10 days after exposure to the bacterium. The early symptoms of pertussis are similar to those of a common cold, including runny nose, low-grade fever, and mild cough. However, as the disease progresses, the cough becomes more severe and can last for several weeks or even months. The characteristic symptom of pertussis is a coughing fit that ends with a loud “whoop” sound as the person tries to inhale air. Infants and young children may also experience vomiting after coughing spells and may turn blue due to lack of oxygen.
Pertussis is caused by the bacterium Bordetella pertussis, which infects the respiratory tract and produces toxins that damage the lining of the airways. The bacteria are spread through respiratory droplets when an infected person talks, coughs, or sneezes. Pertussis is most contagious during the early stages of the disease, when symptoms are mild and may be mistaken for a cold. However, the bacteria can remain in the respiratory secretions for several weeks, even after the symptoms have resolved, and can still be transmitted to others.
The treatment of pertussis usually involves antibiotics to kill the bacteria and relieve the symptoms. In most cases, antibiotics are effective in reducing the severity and duration of the disease if they are given early in the course of the illness. However, antibiotics will not completely reverse the damage caused by the toxins produced by the bacteria, and the cough may persist for several weeks or even months. Hospitalization may be necessary for infants and young children who are having difficulty breathing or are dehydrated.
The best way to prevent pertussis is through vaccination with the DTaP (diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis) vaccine. The DTaP vaccine is recommended for children at ages 2, 4, 6, and 15-18 months, with booster doses at ages 4-6 years and between ages 11 and 12 years. The vaccine is also recommended for adults who have not received a booster dose within the past 10 years or who have never been vaccinated against pertussis. In addition to vaccination, good hand hygiene and covering the mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing can help prevent the spread of pertussis.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022). Pertussis (Whooping Cough). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/pertussis/index.html